Best Things to Do in Madeira & Places to See
Madeira is a true gem in the middle of the Atlantic, one main island and a smattering of uninhabited rocks and sandier isles. With its green, volcanic landscapes, sunny shores, and colorful local culture, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on this beautiful island chain.
Landing in Madeira
The History Channel’s Most Extreme Airports has dubbed it one of the most dangerous airports in the world. In fact, crews have to take on extra training just to land there. The single runway stretches out over the Atlantic Ocean on tall cement pylons. This makes for quite a breathtaking landing! Despite talks of moving the airport to a flatter area, the beautiful island’s rugged terrain has kept it in its original location. You’ll be surrounded by 6,000-foot mountains and cliffs up to 1,800 feet while soaking up the sun on almost beachless coastlines.
There was talk about moving the airport to a flatter area, but the island’s stunning western plateau, standing at 5,000 feet high, is too remote from the southeastern tourist centers.
Visit Madeira beaches
The lush flower fields, winding black cliffs, and banana plantations are just the beginning. Even though the island is known for its lack of beaches, don’t let that discourage you. After all, there are plenty of enormous saltwater swimming pools to choose from.
Hike the llevadas
If you’re planning a trip to Madeira, hiking should be at the top of your list. The levadas, or irrigation channels, make for a unique and enjoyable way to explore the island’s different altitudes. During our hikes, we could sample the varied vegetation bands that characterize the island’s terrain. Above the banana plantations you’ll find fresh vegetables like lettuce, melons, and tomatoes, often shaded by trellised vines.
Sample Madeira wine
The farms on the steep mountains of Madeira produce a wide variety of products, from the delicious wine to an abundance of vibrant flowers. The incline is so severe that farmers have to keep their cows in sheds to prevent them from falling down the mountainside – it’s both funny and cute. Gravity was certainly of great help to the wine industry, as it assisted in transporting casks down to the port below.
The peculiar flavor of Madeira wine comes from heating it to as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit for three to six months and then slowly cooling it. A sailor discovered this technique in 1700 after trying a vintage shipped from Madeira to Hong Kong. Nowadays, most Madeiras are artificially heated, but before 1794, they naturally warmed as ballast on round trips across the ocean.
Visit Porto Santo
Porto Santo, a small and cute island, has a rich history, including being a honeymoon destination for Christopher Columbus and a target for pirates throughout the centuries. Although often overlooked by tourists, this hidden gem is home to one of Europe’s most unspoiled stretches of beach. Located 350 miles off the coast of Morocco and belonging to Portugal, Porto Santo is part of the same volcanic Atlantic chain as Madeira. It offers a unique and different experience for travelers seeking a peaceful escape
Curral das Freiras or Nun’s Valley
Curral das Freiras is a small village with a rich history. Its name translates to “Nun’s Valley,” a reference to the nuns who are said to have sought refuge there during a violent raid on their convent. Today, the village lies nestled deep in a lush green valley, surrounded by towering volcanic peaks. From the nearby viewpoint at Eira do Serrado, visitors can glimpse the village’s white-washed houses peeking out from among the dense vegetation.
If you’re searching for a thrilling adventure, then you must take a drive on the breathtakingly dramatic road that winds along the gorgeous north coast between Sao Vicente and Porto Moniz. The road has been cut into towering rock walls and hovers high above the Atlantic waves on a narrow shelf that can only accommodate one vehicle.
The drive will leave you spellbound as you pass by lush purple grape arbors and terraces of greens which stretch as far as the eye can see. You will discover vibrant sea views that alternate with fascinating dark tunnels. The year-round waterfalls tumbling down the majestic mountainsides add to the scenic beauty. It is a drive that leaves a lasting impression on everyone who experiences it.
Visit the West of Madeira
While it may be less visited than the east, it’s definitely worth adding to your Madeira itinerary! A Madeira West tour will lead you to charming coastal towns like Camara de Lobos, Ribeira Brava, and Ponta do Sol, each with their own unique beauty.
But the real gem lies all the way out northwest, where you can discover the small but stunning town of Porto Moniz. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience another side of the island. It’s truly one of the best things o do in Madeira.
If you’re looking for the ultimate thrill on your Madeira trip, you absolutely have to visit Cabo Girão. The stunning viewpoint boasts a towering height of 580 meters, making it Europe’s highest sea cliff…at least, according to some! But these details pale in comparison to the overwhelming sensation of walking on the glass skywalk suspended over the cliff. The view from up top takes your breath away, and the experience is sure to stick with you for the rest of your life. It’s one of the most memorable things to do in Madeira, and we highly recommend you don’t miss out
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Madeira, a day trip to Santana should be on your list This charming village on the North coast is famous for its Casas Típicas de Santana, which can be spotted throughout the town. These traditional houses have been transformed into an open-air museum, where visitors can explore and shop for souvenirs and embroidery. But that’s not all – make sure to take a stroll to Rocha do Novio, a nature reserve with breathtaking views of cliffs and waterfalls. And for a unique experience, ride the lesser-known cable car down to the beach. A day trip to Santana is a must-do on your Madeira itinerary.
Ponta do Sol
It might be a bit trickier to get to by bus, but trust me, this seaside town is worth the effort.
Not only is Ponta do Sol the sunniest and warmest corner of Madeira, but it also boasts a fantastic beach, great bars and restaurants, and an overall relaxed vibe that makes it the perfect place for a few days’ stay or a day trip. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Madeira, make sure to add Ponta do Sol to your list!
Camara de Lobos
When it comes to the best things to do in Madeira, a trip to Camara de Lobos should definitely be on your list. This cute and colourful fishing town is only 9 km west of Funchal! It offers a laid-back atmosphere, picturesque views, and plenty of opportunities for snapping some seriously envy-inducing photos. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxed afternoon, especially if you combine it with a visit to Cabo Girao. The town may not have loads of activities, but its charm more than makes up for it.
Churchill was a frequent visitor to Madeira, and he couldn’t resist the brightly colored boats and cozy cottages of Camara de Lobos. In fact, he painted the picturesque scene multiple times, and now visitors can pay homage to Churchill at the Winston Churchill Snack Bar and plaque in the village.
Spend a day (at least!) in Funchal
Funchal may seem like a chaotic blend of people and cars, but don’t be fooled. The town’s architecture holds a piece of Portugal’s history in its carved black basalt window and door frames.
The whitewashed walls offer a stark yet stunning contrast to the intricate details. And if that’s not enough to get your witty side going, try standing at the back of a 16th-century cathedral, half blinded by the sun and hearing whispers of worshipers at prayer. You’ll be transported back in time, feeling like you’re part of the history that still lingers in Funchal’s streets.
Camacha’s folk traditions
This charming place is known for its traditional folk dancing and stunning wickerwork. The village is home to seven communities that actively participate in its folk traditions, including singing, dancing, and wickerwork. One of Camacha’s highlights is its Café Relógio, an iconic tower commissioned by Dr. Michael Grabham in 1896. Its clock and bell were brought all the way from Liverpool’s Parish Church of Walton, adding to the small town’s charming character. Camacha’s folk dancing and other events continue to draw in visitors from all around the world, making it one of the most visited places in the region.
How to get around Madeira
This tiny island is only 13 miles wide and 35 miles long, but don’t let the size fool you – there’s plenty to explore here. The terrain is so rough that it takes several days to explore it all by car, but that just adds to the thrill of the journey. Each village has its own unique character, and you won’t want to miss out on any of them. From the folk dancing and wickerwork in Camacha to the multicolored wooden houses with steeply pointed thatched roofs in Santana – you can see it all on your own scehdule when driving.
What’s the weather like in Madeira?
If you’re a fan of mild and consistent weather, then you’ll love Madeira. This little island off the coast of Portugal has a climate that’s almost too good to be true. During the summer months, temperatures average around 70 degrees, which is perfect for a day spent lounging by one of the many saltwater swimming pools. And in the winter, when most other places are buried in snow, Madeira still sees a pleasant average temperature of 61 degrees.
Madeira’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, with approximately 30 percent of the island’s wealth coming from this industry. The primary export is bananas, although there is also a significant production of avocados, passion fruit, and guavas. Interestingly, though, Madeira is probably more well-known for the wine that shares its name than it is for the island itself